PROVO -- The BYU men's volleyball team finished the 2005 season with impressive records of 20-10 overall and 15-7 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation while returning just two starters from the 2004 National Championship team. The 2005 season marked the fifth-consecutive 20-win season and the 12th-straight top-five regular season finish in the MPSF.
With hopes of repeating as MPSF and NCAA Tournament champions, the Cougars lost to UC Santa Barbara in the quarterfinals of the MPSF tournament. BYU lost the first two games and faced elimination in the third, trailing 29-27, but scored the last four points to win and force a fourth. The Cougars found themselves behind once again, at 22-20, but Victor Batista registered a kill and then served the next six points to put BYU ahead 27-22. The Cougars would win 30-23 and had the momentum going into the fifth, only to fall behind 13-11. BYU managed to tie the scored at 13 but yielded two after a UCSB timeout, losing the game, 15-13, and the match, 3-2.
Despite missing out on the chance to defend their 2004 National Title, Coach Tom Peterson and the Cougars continued to prove that BYU has one of the top men's volleyball programs in the NCAA. Since taking over the program in 2003, Peterson has compiled an overall record of 72-21 (.774) and a 52-14 (.788) mark in the MPSF, which is recognized as the toughest league in the nation for men's volleyball. In his three seasons, the Cougars have averaged a second-place finish in the MPSF regular season.
The 2005 season was BYU's 16th since attaining NCAA status in 1990. Eight of those 16 seasons have ended with the Cougars winning 20 or more, including 2005. BYU has now compiled 277 wins in the storied history of the program.
The Cougars managed a very successful season despite the loss of three All-Americans and five starters. Senior middle blocker and All-MPSF performer Michael Burke and 2004 second-team All-American junior outside hitter/middle blocker Victor Batista stepped up and provided leadership for the young squad that at times started two freshman along with three juniors and one senior that had limited experience coming into the season.
Burke was solid all year, finishing the 2005 campaign with the highest hitting percentage (.460) and blocking average (1.35) on the team. His abilities and overall athletic ability were recognized by the AVCA as he was named a second-team All-American. The MPSF also named him to its second team, his fourth league honor. In 2003 he was an honorable mention performer while also being named Academic All-MPSF. In 2004 he made the third team. The National Strength and Conditioning Association recognized his accomplishments as well, naming Burke an All-American.
Along with Burke, Perez was named a second-team performer by the AVCA and the MPSF. He proved to be a record setting freshman for the Cougars, finishing the season with 382 kills, the most by a BYU rookie. His second team selections were the highest league and national honors in school history for a freshman. He also averaged a team-best 3.78 kills per game while hitting .331 and averaging 1.49 digs per game. He was also named player of the week for his stellar performances against the University of Hawai'i, March 18 and 19, when he registered 32 kills and hit .455.
Batista also earned All-MPSF Second Team status. Batista, who was named All-MPSF Honorable Mention and a second-team All-American in 2004 as a middle blocker, was named to the team as an outside hitter in 2005. He averaged 3.53 kills per game while hitting .316 and averaging 0.88 blocks and 0.98 digs per game.
Rob Neilson, the junior setter who replaced Carlos Moreno, the 2004 AVCA National Player of the Year, was named to the All-MPSF Honorable Mention team. Not only did he distribute the ball well, averaging 13.22 assists per game, but he also brought strong leadership and an all-around game to the floor. On the season, he had averages of 0.77 kills, 1.23 digs and 0.88 blocks while hitting .340. He was named the AVCA National Player of the Week for his performance against the University of Hawai'i, March 18 and 19, when he recorded 82 assists, 16 blocks, 13 digs and five kills to lead the Cougars to back-to-back sweeps over the Warriors.
After finishing the 2005 season at 20-10, the Cougars claimed their eighth 20-win season in their 16-year history. It was also BYU's fifth consecutive 20-win season, dating back to the 2001 season. The first 20-win season was in 1994 when the Cougars finished with a 21-6 record and advanced to the final of the MPSF Tournament, losing to Stanford in four games.
One of the marks of the 2005 team was its ability to control matches with its serve. BYU set a school record with 174 service aces, surpassing the 2003 team's record of 152 by 22. Perez and Batista were joined by Taylor Evans and Casey Patterson as the main catalysts in the service attack. Batista led the way with 38 and a 0.35 per game average while Patterson was second with 35, Evans third at 33 and Perez fourth with 29. Burke and Neilson also got into the action with 18 and 14, respectively. Batista's 38 were fourth all-time at BYU for a single season and third in school rally-scoring history while Patterson's 35 rank him sixth overall and fourth in rally scoring. Batista has 57 for his career, the seventh highest total in school history. Evans, who set the BYU rally scoring record for aces in a match with seven against USC on March 4, 2005, is tied for seventh for aces in a single season and tied for fifth in rally scoring. As a team, the Cougars averaged 1.57 service aces per game compared to 1.16 for their opponents.
Best Fans in the Nation
BYU fans once again proved they give the Cougars possibly the best home court advantage in the nation as an average of 3,251 attended each match. The average is the second highest in school history and the best in a season in which BYU did not play a match in the Marriott Center. The large crowd gave the Cougars the support they needed to finish the season at 9-4 overall and 8-2 in the MPSF at home. BYU also attracted large crowds on the road, outdrawing the opponent's average attendance in 12 of 13 road matches.
Record Setting Middle Blocker
Michael Burke set several records with his blocking prowess. His 20 block solos tied Jesse Gant and Scott Bunker for the second-most in a single season. He finished his career with 42 block solos, ranking him third all-time at BYU. He also ranks among the career leaders in block assists with 346 and total blocks at 388. He unseated current assistant coach Shawn Patchell for fifth all-time in both categories. In a match against Hawai'i, March 18, 2005, he tied Scott Bunker for the second-most total blocks in a rally-scoring match with 11. Along with all of the blocking records he set, Burke finished his three-year BYU career with the highest career hitting percentage at .470, replacing Ethan Watts, who hit .463. Burke had 768 kills on 1,333 attempts while committing just 141 errors.
Fitting Right In
Rob Neilson replaced the 2004 National Player of the Year, Carlos Moreno, and BYU hardly missed a beat. Along with being named a 2005 All-MPSF Honorable Mention, he tied for fifth at BYU for block solos in a season with 19. His 1,467 assists ranked him sixth all-time at BYU and third in rally-scoring history.
The Cougars finished the 2005 season with a top-10 national ranking for the ninth consecutive season, dating back to 1997 when BYU finished fourth. The Cougars have finished in the top-10 in 12 of their 16 seasons since joining the NCAA.
The MPSF, AVCA and other organizations recognized the efforts of the members of 2005 BYU men's volleyball team. The following is a list of awards earned by the players:
National Strength and Conditioning All-American
All-MPSF Honorable Mention
USA Today/AVCA National Player of the Week
Rob Neilson (March 21)
MPSF Player of the Week
Ivan Perez (March 21)
Outrigger Invitational Tournament MVP
Outrigger Invitational All-Tournament Team
Hall of Fame-Morgan Classic All-Tournament Team
Cougar Club Y Awards
Men's Team of the Year
Fernando Pessoa -- Floyd Johnson Service Award
Victor Batista -- Male Crowd Pleaser
Student Athlete Academic Center Scholar Athletes
* Completed eligibility in 2004 but continued as a student in 2005.
** More awards may be added in the following weeks.
The Cougars kicked off the season at the Outrigger Tournament in Honolulu (Jan. 5-7) with wins over Lewis, Penn State and Hawai'i. Despite struggling offensively, BYU pulled out the wins behind the solid play of senior middle blocker Michael Burke, who was named the tournament MVP, averaging 3.38 kills, 1.15 digs and 1.15 blocks per game. Casey Patterson and Victor Batista were also named to the All-Tournament team. With the 3-0 start, the Cougars were ranked No. 1 in the initial AVCA/Coaches Poll.
The next weekend (Jan. 14, 15) BYU opened at home with two matches against Cal Baptist, the No. 1 team in the NAIA. The Lancers took the first match, a five-game win, ending the Cougars 10-match win streak that dated back to the 2004 season. BYU came back the next night and swept Cal Baptist behind a strong offensive performance, hitting .463 (50-12-82).
The No. 2 Cougars kicked off Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play on the road against UC Santa Barbara (Jan. 21, 22). In the first match, BYU struggled with errors and finished with a disappointing loss to the Gauchos. Like the previous weekend, the Cougars bounced back to win in a sweep. Batista led the BYU attack the hit .506 (52-10-83) with 23 kills, a career high.
With a 5-2 record, the No. 3 Cougars welcomed rival and No. 1 ranked UCLA to the Fieldhouse for a pair of matches (Jan. 28, 29). Before the Friday match, the banner was dropped to honor the 2004 National Championship team. BYU rode the emotion of the pre-game ceremony to a 3-1 win over the No. 1 ranked Bruins. Burke was the lead man for the Cougars, registering 13 kills and 10 blocks. UCLA came back the next night won in a sweep.
The next weekend (Feb. 4, 5) the No. 4 Cougars headed east for the Hall of Fame Classic in Springfield, Mass., the birthplace of volleyball, for the first time in team history. BYU started out with a dominating 3-0 win over Ball State. The next night was a rematch with Penn State, a team the Cougars beat 3-2 in Honolulu after falling behind two games to none. BYU looked as if it would continue its winning ways against the Nittany Lions, jumping out to a 2-0 lead before yielding the next three and ending the tournament with a loss. Burke and Patterson were named to the All-Tournament Team.
With a 7-4 record, the No. 6 Cougars returned to MPSF play with two matches at Pepperdine (Feb. 11, 12). BYU struggled both nights, falling in four games and then three. The play of Burke was a bright spot as he finished with 20 kills and just one hitting error, hitting .594.
Following the two losses to Pepperdine, the Cougars had slipped to 7-6 and No. 7 in the rankings. A week off provided BYU with needed rest, allowing the Cougars to regroup and prepare for two home matches against UC Irvine. The time off was just what BYU need, as the Cougars came out and earned 3-1 and 3-0 wins over the Anteaters. BYU's balanced attack led the way as four players registered double-digit kills both nights. Junior Taylor Evans set a school rally-scoring record with seven service aces in the first match.
The two wins over UC Irvine gave the No. 6 Cougars momentum heading into their next matches against USC (March 4, 5), which they rode to two more victories. In the first match, Patterson, Evans and freshman Ivan Perez tallied 14 kills each while Burke added 13. The next night, Burke had nine on 10 swings while Evans added 11.
No. 6 BYU headed to Pacific (March 11. 12), looking to extend its season-long win streak of four matches to six. Things went as planned the first night as the Cougars came out with a strong serve, registering eight on the match and winning handily, sweeping the Tigers. Patterson and Batista had three aces each while Evans added two. The next night, BYU looked dominant in the opening frame, winning 30-17. Pacific would then take control, taking the next three games for the 3-1 win, ending the Cougar's five-match win streak. Perez had one of the best matches of his young career, recording 24 kills and nine digs while hitting .588.
Despite the loss, BYU maintained its No. 6 national ranking and stood at 12-7 overall and 7-5 in the MPSF. No. 3 Hawai'i was the Cougar's next test as the teams played two matches in the Smith Fieldhouse (March 11, 12). BYU played possibly its best volleyball of the season, earning back-to-back sweeps over the Warriors. The Cougar block, led by the efforts of junior setter Rob Neilson, was one of the major factors in the victories. In the first match, Neilson had a career-best seven blocks to lead BYU to 17.0 as a team. Burke also set a career mark with 11. The next night, the block was even stronger as the Cougars posted 18.0. Neilson again set a career high with nine while Batista contributed eight, a season high.
The next weekend, No. 4 BYU welcomed Long Beach State to Provo (March 25 and 26) for rematches of the 2004 MPSF and NCAA Tournament Championship matches. The Cougars struggled the first night, getting swept by a tough 49er team. The next night BYU was determined to get a win. After dropping the first game 36-34, the Cougars came back in convincing fashion, winning the second 30-22. Long Beach State proved resilient as well, taking the next game 30-26. Facing a two-games-to-one deficit, BYU again won decisively, 30-23, sending the match to a fifth. The game was back and forth and with the score tied at 10, the Cougars scored the last five to win the game and the match. Perez, who started the five-point run and served the final four, had a career-high 25 kills to lead BYU.
Looking to finish as high as possible in the MPSF to ensure a good seed in the post-season tournament, the Cougars headed to California for two matches with CS Northridge (April 1 and 2). In the first match, BYU took the first game in commanding fashion, winning 30-21 before faltering in the second and losing 30-25. The Cougars quickly regrouped and won the next two to take the match 3-1. Batista led the charge with one of his best hitting matches of the season, finishing with 19 kills and a .680 hitting percentage. The second match was a struggled for BYU as Northridge won the first two game 30-16 and 30-19. The Cougars came back and almost took the third to get back into the match but could not make plays at the right time, losing 30-28. The loss dropped BYU to 16-9 and 11-7.
BYU returned to Provo for two matches with UC San Diego, the final regular season home contests of 2005 (April 8 and 9). The Cougars had no problem with the Tritons either night, earning back-to-back sweeps. Rob Congelliere, Michael Burke and Casey Patterson played in the final regular season home matches of their careers and all started. It was Congelliere's first start of his career.
Two wins over UC San Diego gave BYU the confidence in needed to go to Stanford for two matches to finish off the regular season (April 8 and 9). The Cougars knew that two wins would guarantee a third-place finish in the MPSF and an MPSF Tournament Quarterfinal match in Provo. BYU was equal to the task, winning both matches in four games over a defensive-minded Stanford squad. Patterson had one of the best all-around matches of his career in the first, tallying 12 kills, 10 digs, four aces, four assists and six blocks. Batista and Perez led the Cougars in the second matchup, combining for 40 kills to lead the BYU attack.
With the wins over Stanford, the Cougars claimed the third seed in the MPSF tournament. BYU prepared for a quarterfinal meeting with UC Santa Barbara (April 23), with whom the Cougars had split on the road earlier in the season. BYU's hopes of repeating as MPSF and NCAA Tournament champions were shattered as the Cougars lost 3-2 to the Gauchos. BYU lost the first two games and faced elimination in the third, trailing 29-27, but scored the last four points to win and force a fourth. The Cougars found themselves behind once again, at 22-20, but Victor Batista registered a kill and then served the next six points to put BYU ahead 27-22. The Cougars would win 30-23 and had the momentum going into the fifth, only to fall behind 13-11. BYU managed to tie the scored at 13 but yielded two after a UCSB timeout, losing the game, 15-13, and the match, 3-2. Perez led BYU with 24 kills while Patterson had 17 and Brian Rowley added 12 digs.